May 20, 2019

House passes cybersecurity bill for electric utilities

by Wendell Bell
Source – Grid Monitor
Posted 05/20/2019

The Texas House of Representatives gave its approval on May 17 to a Senate bill that would create a cybersecurity monitor for Texas electric utilities.

Passed by a vote of 143-0, the legislation intends to develop a framework for partnership between the Public Utility Commission (PUC), utilities, and ERCOT to secure critical networks used to operate the electric grid from cyber attacks. 

Senate Bill 936 by Sen. Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills) and sponsored by Rep. Ana Hernandez (D-Houston) would require the PUC to select an entity to: (1) manage a comprehensive cybersecurity outreach program for monitored utilities; (2) meet regularly with monitored utilities to discuss emerging threats, best business practices, and training opportunities; (3) review self-assessments by monitored utilities of cybersecurity efforts; (4) research and develop best business practices regarding cybersecurity; and (5) report to the PUC on monitored utility cybersecurity preparedness.  

The bill also requires ERCOT to contract with and support the cybersecurity monitor, using funds from ERCOT’s existing System Administration Fee, which is charged to load serving entities in ERCOT.  Utilities outside of ERCOT could participate in the monitoring program voluntarily, with the PUC creating a method for them to help share the costs.   

The bill moves back to the Senate for consideration of a House amendment, which specifies that the monitor’s review of utilities’ self-assessments is limited to those that are voluntarily disclosed by the utilities. 

A related measure, Senate Bill 64 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) is on the House calendar for May 21. 

The Nelson bill updates the Texas Cybersecurity Act passed in 2017 that established certain cybersecurity-related requirements for all state agencies. Senate Bill 64 includes a section directing the PUC to establish a cybersecurity coordination program for electric utilities. 

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